German And Italian Escape Attempts From Other Camps In Great Britain

Camp 13: Shap Fells Hotel, Penrith, Westmoorland

Harry Wappler - Heinkel He111 crashed into a barrage balloon over Newport, Monmouthsire
Heinz Schnabel - was among the 80+ pilots shot down in September 1940.

These two POWs escaped by hiding in the laundry baskets and stowed away on a train bound for Carlisle. Posing as Dutch airmen they successfully stole a plane from Kingstown airfield. (The unit operating there was No.15 Elementary Flying Training School).

Seriously low on fuel they spotted an aerodrome and refuelled but on taking off again they got lost in bad weather, ran low on fuel again and had to land in a meadow 5 miles north of Great Yarmouth. Still pretending to be Dutch airmen they were taken to Horsham, St Faith (one of Bomber Commands most important aerodromes in East Anglia). By this time, news of the stolen aeroplane had got to light and flashed around the country. The two men were arrested.

Shaps Well Camp as sketched by: Leutnant Heinz-Georg Moellenbrock
As it is today as the considerably extended Shaps Well Hotel


Camp 17: Lodge Moor Camp, Sheffield.

A planned break out was given away and later the prisoner believed to have been responsible for giving the escape attempt away, Gerhardt Rettig, was chased around the camp by a howling mob before he was severely beaten. He was taken to hospital but died from internal bleeding.

The trial of 4 POWs took place at the London cage in Kensington Palace Gardens:

Unteroffizier Heinz Ditzler
Soldat Juergen Kersting
Feldwebel Emil Schmittendorf
Armin Kuehne

(2 days after Gerhardt Rettig died, both Schmittendorf and Ditzler managed to crawl under the wire. After a short spell of liberty, they were recaptured)

Heinz Ditzler and Juergen Kersting were acquitted because of insufficient evidence. 18 year old Kuehne and Schmittendorf were found guilty and were executed on the 16th November at Pentonville Prison in London.


Camp 23: Le Marchant,  Devizes, Wiltshire. / Camp 21: Comrie, Perthshire, Scotland

Twenty-eight  ringleaders  were taken from this camp to the maximum security cells at the London Cage, Kensington. The escape ring leader Erich Koenig had devised a plan to bomb and capture London. In his book The London Cage - Lieutenant Colonel A.P.Scotland, chief British interrogator of German POWs said no escape story was "more daring in concept, more fantastic, more ambitious, more hopelessly fanatical".

The 28 were transferred to POW Camp 21 Comrie, Perthshire, Scotland. ("The cream of the Nazis, and the more troublesome of the POWs, were sent to Comrie which was a maximum security camp. Being men of single, narrow purpose, the Nazis had turned the camp into a little slice of Hitler's Germany, complete with its evils and absurdities. Those whose belief in National Socialism was lukewarm or non-existent, or who did not give the Hitler salute and Heil-Hitler every other sentence were marked men.")

A POW who hated Hitler and was not afraid to show it was Feldwebel (Sergeant-Major) Wolfgang Rosterg. He was a camp interpreter at Devizes and was one of the 28 transferred to Comrie. Escape ring leader, Erich Koenig believed that Wolfgang Rosterg had given the escape away at Devizes and that he'd only been transferred to Comrie to act as an undercover man. One evening, eight of the POWs from Devizes, beat Wolfgang Rosterg in his Hut 4, before dragging him semi-conscious to the bath house building where they hung him.

Six months later, the eight Nazis, were sent to London to answer for the murder of Wolfgang Rosterg at Comrie. The court took place in the large drawing-room of No. 8 Kensington Palace Gardens, the requisitioned home of a margerine millionaire. The 8 POWs:

Herzig
Wunderlich
Klein
Kurt Zuchlsdorff

Josep Mertins
Joachim Palme-Goltz
Heintz Brueling
Erich Koenig

All pleaded not guilty. They were represented by solicitors, Captain Roger Willis (Later His Honour Judge Willis of Bloomsbury County Court, London) and Major R.Evans.

Wunderlich, Herzig, and Klein were acquitted.

At 8 o'clock on the 6th October 1945, Zuchlsdorff, Mertins, Palme-Goltz, Brueling and Koenig were marched to Pentonville Prison in North London and executed. Only Mertens was said to have expressed regret for the crime.


Camp 96: Wolseley Road Rugeley, Statffordshire.

In thick fog, thirteen POWS escaped. In the uproar that followed the discovery, only the guard commander's threat to shoot halted a rush at the gate by POWs armed with shovels !


Camp 112:  Doonfoot, Ayr

97 Italian POWs tunnelled to freedom in December 1944. But within a short time 93 were back in custody. When the recapture was nearly complete, the police were notified that 4 POWs were still free; soldier Pirisinu, and 3 naval officers Gianoli, Corini, Foglia. The 4 POWs were eventually caught but nobody ever informed the police, so according to police records these POWs are still free !

One of the docile Italian POWs, an in-offensive motor mechanic from Turin found conditions hard to bear and early in 1945, wrote a scribbled note before hanging himself with a canvas belt. "I have never been anyone's enemy.  Perhaps for that reason, the burden is heavier on me.  Today, however, I feel that I hate Fascism, which has been the cause of my country's downfall. Long live England and her great people !"


Camp 194 Council House, Penkridge, Staffordshire (main road between Stafford and Wolverhampton)

13 POWs cut the wire in very foggy conditions. As soon as they were free they split up into small parties. But two were caught in Wolverhampton,  two in Walsall, two in Derby, 4 single-handedly by a police office who tricked them in to believing he was taking them to get a lift when their stolen car ran out of petrol and two in Liverpool. The thirteenth man, whose believed intention was to head for Liverpool and stow aboard a ship, was never returned to the camp and today it is not clear whether this officer succeeded in getting away

A later tunnel was suspected but couldn't be located by guards until the secret was eventually deliberately given away (under a bed in Hut 4) by the German camp choirmaster. The planned break out was to have been for 100+ POWs. The nerve of the choirmaster cracked under the pressure / fear of being found out and was making his way rather hurriedly towards the gates. He was spotted and after a short chase he made it through the gates and was transferred to another camp for his safety !

Camp 176: Glen Mill, Oldham Lancashire
4 prisoners hid on a sports ground by hiding in a hole in a mound of earth which was being used to construct a tennis court. Before going on to the sports ground the POWs had to hand in an identity tag at a small window to a British guard. It was his job to put the tag on to a hook on a board. The board would then serve as an instant roll call as to who was on the sports field and who wasn't. However, the British guard, bored with his mundane task, was easily exploited by a POW who pretended to be helpful by collecting the tags off his fellow POWs and hand them in as one bunch (shielding the view from the window), thus allowing the concealment of more POWs going on to the field than tags had been handed in ! The POWs lay on the field until dark and then cut the wire but they were soon caught and the British guard did 3 months in the "Glass house" for neglect of duty !

Nine POWs managed to start a more ambitious escape attempt a few months later by bullying Lagerfuehrer Schaffer to have his office used as the start of the tunnel entrance.  In his office were the crates of cigarettes which were issued to the POWs and underneath these was deemed the ideal place to conceal a tunnel. Guard suspicions were aroused when the request for light bulbs suddenly went up and procedures were changed whereby the broken bulb had to be accounted for, before a new one was issued. Thus the tunnel soon became dimly lit and in the poor light a POW, in his confined space wielded his home made pick straight through a water main connecting the mill to the town supply. The two POWs were then in immediate danger. If they did not get out of the tunnel quickly, not only would they drown but they could also have been electrocuted by the tunnel lighting system. The only consolation of an otherwise well masterminded project was that the tunnel would have ended in disaster anyway. The tunnel had gone off course and was heading under a road which would have collapsed under the weight of a car or lorry.

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